Rebuilding a Damaged Palestine
Rebuilding a Damaged Palestine
The UAE, Israel and a Test of Influence
The UAE, Israel and a Test of Influence
Op-Ed / Middle East & North Africa 4 minutes

Rebuilding a Damaged Palestine

One of the significant subplots in the current Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is that while Prime Minister Ariel Sharon loudly denounces Yasir Arafat for seeking to draw the international community into the conflict, Israel's actions push inexorably toward that result. Secretary of State Colin Powell's announcement that an international conference will be held this summer is but the latest indication.

Beyond that, as the ability of the Palestinian Authority to deliver basic social services or ensure law and order declines, the prospects for more robust international intervention increase. Ideas once considered far-fetched -- a peacekeeping force, an international trusteeship or protectorate over the Palestinian territories -- suddenly are being taken seriously. The question is no longer whether the conflict will be internationalized, but how. The challenge is to intervene in a way that accelerates rather than impedes the search for an enduring solution.

Although the long-term strategy behind Israel's military actions may be unclear, their immediate impact on the Palestinian population is anything but. The operations have crippled Palestinian security organizations, sapped the ability of ministries to provide essential services and divided the territories into disconnected parts.

Security concerns can legitimately explain some of the Israeli Army's actions. But in more than one instance, that rationale would be difficult to sustain. Civilian ministries and medical facilities have been damaged; equipment and public documents with no discernible intelligence value, like school records, have been destroyed. The logic behind these actions appears to have less to do with furthering Israel's security than with its political goals. The result is that someone will have to reconstruct those institutions and deliver services.

From Day One, the Palestinian Authority has had to rely to a large extent on foreign help. Arguably, every single one of its branches -- from security to financial services -- has been supported, sometimes heavily, by one or several international actors. To take the most conspicuous example, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East runs roughly half of the social services in the West Bank and Gaza. But now, given the damage, international involvement of a far different magnitude may be necessary to help the Palestinian Authority provide shelter, restore water and sewage systems, and deliver basic government functions like security and law and order.

All this explains why so many are thinking so seriously about putting a transitional international structure in place.

Of course it may seem odd to evoke any international presence at this time, given Israel's refusal to allow a United Nations fact-finding team in Jenin. The dispute over the fact-finding plan shows the intensity of Israel's general distrust of international interference, which it views as a reward for Palestinian violence, and its particular distrust of the United Nations, which it views as hopelessly anti-Israeli. But in this situation, there are no appealing alternatives. Israel would be ill-advised to take on administration of the territories, and the Palestinian Authority cannot administer them on its own. Moreover, Israel's objections might well subside if an international presence helped enhance security for Israelis and if its representatives came from countries agreeable to both sides.

The challenge is to create an international role that reflects the goals and concerns of the two parties. Lessons from the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and from conflict-resolution efforts elsewhere suggest a few key principles.

First, and most important, the political end game must be clearly stated. To introduce an international apparatus without initially defining the outcome and a time line for reaching that outcome is to invite constant manipulation by the warring sides. Worse, the international effort would risk being perceived by the Palestinian people as a civilian counterpart to Israel's military occupation and therefore a target of radical militants.

In this instance the outlines of a final settlement are by now familiar: a sovereign and nonmilitarized Palestinian state whose borders would be based on 1967 lines, with land swaps of equal size to accommodate demographic realities; Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Arab neighborhoods as the capital of Palestine; a robust international force to provide security and monitor implementation of the agreement; and a solution to the refugee issue that does not threaten Israel's demographic balance.

Second, the goal should be to restore the Palestinian Authority's capacity to operate -- not to replace self-government, but to support it. What smacks of external imposition of control is likely to be treated as such.

Finally, the opportunity should not be lost to lay the foundation for a truly modern Palestinian state. In the past decade, Palestinian governance has proved to be a sorry tale of graft, economic mismanagement and human rights violations. A broad-based international involvement can help introduce more accountability and the rule of law. It can also help turn the Palestinian security forces from a multitude of competing fiefdoms into a more streamlined, professional police force.

The 20 months of fighting since the start of the second intifada may well have slowed down the process of Palestinian nation-building. But Israel's recent military actions will almost certainly accelerate the process of internationalization that Israelis have so far resisted and Palestinians have so often called for. If done right, the introduction of an international presence can benefit both sides. It can help increase security for Israelis and Palestinians, rebuild Palestinian self-government and provide Israel with assurances regarding Palestinian performance. Most important, it may begin to set in motion the process that should lead to the emergence of a viable state of Palestine living side by side with Israel.

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.